Emerald's future on the table

Public encouraged to attend forum

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— Members of the Emerald Mountain Partnership say that if people don't want to see homes on the beautiful mountain, they might want to attend a public forum Wednesday.

As planned, the meeting will educate people about the effort to save Emerald Mountain and why it is important to wildlife, agriculture and recreation.

The forum also is expected to be an important fishing expedition for community support and money.

"What resources are we as a community, willing to bring to the table to purchase trail easements and property that would be available for recreation?" City Councilman Ken Brenner asked rhetorically. "Are you willing to pay, to play?"

Emerald Mountain's front side serves as the southern backdrop for the city of Steamboat Springs. On the mountain is a 6,400-acre parcel managed by the Colorado State Land Board, which is constitutionally charged to make money from the land it oversees.

Many residents don't want to see the Emerald Mountain parcel developed. But many say they wouldn't want to give up tax money unless they get something in return. That's why Brenner believes some recreation needs to be provided on the land that borders Howelsen Hill and its recreational trails.

The problem is, the land is owned by the State Land Board which says the entire 6,400 acres is worth $17.2 million and it's looking for a return on the state's investment.

The SLB has given the Emerald Mountain Partnership four years to come up with a plan to buy or sell the land as it sees fit. The SLB will then take the money and use it for public schools.

During the next year, the partnership's plan is to find a way to buy at least 1,500 acres (worth about $2 million) that connect to recreation areas on Howelsen Hill.

One funding source being considered is a bond issue that would have to be approved by taxpayers. Grants and donations also will be sought from various organizations and people.

The partnership's ideal situation would have a "rich" conservation buyer putting the entire 6,400 acres into a conservation easement, and taking a tax break.

If all else fails, the partnership can provide for limited development which would subsidize the purchase of the entire parcel, keeping a big portion of it open for wildlife habitat, ranching and recreational uses.

County Commissioner and Emerald Mountain board member Doug Monger said the partnership members will remind the public that it is an all-volunteer organization and will need some short-term financing for operational expenses such as land appraisal and legal work for filing its non-profit tax papers.

"We'll probably try to sell memberships which will be tax deductible," Monger said.

The Emerald Mountain Partnership has been operating on a shoestring budget, with the only money in its banking account coming from board members who gave money. The county and city have donated supplies, space and some legal expertise.

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